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CNN NEWSROOM

President Obama Visits Iraq; Italy Continues Search For Earthquake Survivors

Aired April 7, 2009 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: And hello again, everybody. I'm Rick Sanchez, coming to you from the world headquarters of CNN on this historic day, as the new president of the United States makes his first visit to Iraq.

This happens as things have turned, well, even more deadly in Iraq, at least seven bombings now just in the past 48 hours. The pictures, though, they are stunning.

So, to the images and to the sounds we go. This has been what we have been monitoring, the cheering, the applause, the shaky camera angles, the sometimes pretty bad audio, actually, as it's coming in from the Department of Defense.

The cheering you hear, though, is for the commander in chief. This is inside Camp Victory in Baghdad. The exuberance you hear is from soldiers assigned to the Multi-National Force in Iraq. The president says they are the reason he is there.

However, the president, as you will soon hear, has also been meeting with Prime Minister al-Maliki and President Talabani.

Now to the bloody mess that I mentioned to you just moments ago. It has been and it continues to be what Iraq looks like. Look what happened just a couple of hours ago before the president arrived, a car bomb detonated next to a mosque in a Shiite neighborhood, nine people killed. Twice that many are hurt, also, six car bombings yesterday, more than 30 people killed.

Now, think about this for a minute, all these bombings taking place just before the president arrives in Baghdad. Is it coincidence? Did all this violence erupt just as the president arrived or were extremists somehow tipped off? That's the scene right now in Baghdad.

Programming note. You ready? Any moment now, we're being told that we're going to be receiving a comment from the president of the United States in Baghdad before he left. He made these comments after meeting with al-Maliki and President Talabani.

So, as soon as we get that, we're going to be turning that around for you.

Joining me is Fawaz Gerges, who has visited six countries to study Islam and its political process. Also with us is Fred Kaplan. He's the national security columnist for Slate.com. Fawaz, I want to begin with you.

That question I just posed, I'm curious as to, all of a sudden, because we haven't been hearing much about these explosions in Baghdad, and, suddenly, we see seven within 48 hours just before the president arrives. Did they know he was coming?

FAWAZ GERGES, EXPERT ON MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES, SARAH LAWRENCE COLLEGE: No, I don't think they knew that the president was coming.

The security situation remains very fragile in Iraq. And I think political violence has been on the rise in the last several -- several months. And I think the American leadership, particularly President Barack Obama, knows very well how dangerous the situation is.

And he made it very clear today. He impressed on the Iraqi leadership the urgency of political reconciliation. And he made it very clear that the security situation will remain fragile as long as political and sectarian divisions exist in Iraq. So...

(CROSSTALK)

GERGES: Yes.

SANCHEZ: I want to bring Fred into this conversation. I'm curious, because I'm looking at those pictures now of the U.S. troops meeting the president.

Fred, did you notice the president's reception by U.S. troops. We used the word exuberance a while ago. How much is about his general popularity vs. the fact that he's working on getting those guys out of there and they know it?

FRED KAPLAN, NATIONAL SECURITY COLUMNIST, SLATE.COM: Well, I think American troops are always exuberant to see the president of the United States, no matter who he is, perhaps this one more than others recently because he is new, because he is very popular.

And I think he got a higher percentage of the vote among service men and women than most Democrats do.

SANCHEZ: Fred, Fred, I'm going to interrupt you for just a moment. I am going to bring you back, so I can get your take on what I'm about to show the viewers. These are pictures that are coming in to us right now. I think we're borrowing this from Al-Jazeera. It's the president meeting with Prime Minister al-Maliki.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you so much.

NOURI AL-MALIKI, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much.

(CROSSTALK)

OBAMA: Take care. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: Fred, does the president own -- does he owe something to this prime minister as a result of some of the comments that the prime minister made while he was campaigning against John McCain?

KAPLAN: It is true that Maliki's positions on withdrawal of U.S. troops pretty much coincided with what candidate Obama's was.

The thing to remember is that it's not that Obama is pulling us out of Iraq. It's that the Iraqis want us to go. The treaty that they signed says that all forces will be out by the end of 2011.

What Obama has done is to create a policy that provides for a gradual transition to that. But even John McCain, unless he thought he could somehow get that treaty changed, would have had to leave by the end of 2011.

SANCHEZ: Is that a general consensus, Fawaz? Is that your take?

And, by the way, a programming note again. I'm being told by my executive producer now that we're going to have the video that I just showed you just moments ago as a clean feed. So, stand by at home. I think we're now going to be getting not just that, but several comments from the president, perhaps unedited.

And, as we get them, we will let you see them, if we have to, as they come in to us raw.

So, Fawaz, back to you, as a backup for that question. Is that the general consensus in Iraq?

GERGES: Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

SANCHEZ: That they want the United States out?

GERGES: Yes, absolutely.

There is a large majority of the Iraqis, almost 70 percent, who would like the United States to be out of Iraq. And I think Barack Obama understands this. And he made it very clear today that the ownership of Iraq will revert to Iraqis, and that the Iraqis will be in charge of those -- security and governance.

And he also made it very clear that the American military mission will end very soon and American troops will come home. This was one of the major points hammered out by Barack Obama today.

SANCHEZ: All right, but as the world looks at this, and I know we have had a lot of people complaining about the U.S. involvement in Iraq, and certainly you would be a fool not to question the way we went in, the manner in which perhaps we fought the war at the beginning. Both sides agree to that.

But if the United States gets out now, what happens in that country?

GERGES: You're asking me, Rick?

SANCHEZ: Either one of you, Fred or...

(CROSSTALK)

GERGES: I will tell you, Barack Obama, as I said earlier, fully understands how dangerous the situation is.

And that's why today he delivered the message directly to the Iraqi leadership: You have a critical responsibility to politically reconcile, in particular to create a more inclusive government, in particular to include the Sunni Arab community, which is a minority.

So, he is fully aware of that. He wanted the Iraqi leadership to know very well that the United States is unhappy with the face of political reconciliation that has taken place in Iraq.

KAPLAN: You know, keep in mind that the whole purpose of the surge, as it was called, was to create an environment, a secure environment, in which the Iraqi political factions could get their act together. The surge succeeded at that to a far greater extent than almost anybody anticipated.

And now it's time for the Iraqis to do their part. If they can't do it now, they wouldn't do it five years from now, 10 years from now, any other time.

SANCHEZ: Hey, Fred, related matter, but I just want to break in right now, because I'm getting some new information on a story completely unrelated to this, but it's one that really has engrossed Americans now for a good many decades having to do with Fidel Castro, of all things.

I have just been handed this Associated Press note, saying that U.S. officials say Fidel Castro -- and, as we have reported before, not will meet, but has met. Again, listen to the language here as I report this.

Fidel Castro has met with American lawmakers, first time since falling ill since 2006. There's two parts of this story, really. One is the fact that Fidel Castro would be in good enough health to be meeting with anybody at this point, given some of the reports that have been coming out of Cuba have been.

And, second, during this administration, under Barack Obama, is there now a real possibility that there may be some kind of aperture toward this communist island, something that we haven't seen in some 50 years, Fred?

KAPLAN: Well, I hope so.

I mean, the whole policy toward Cuba has just been preposterous, certainly for the last quarter-century or so. It's no secret that it's -- that the embargoes have been kept in place only so that whatever candidate could win Florida, essentially. And, even so, there's been a generational change in Florida. There aren't even that many Cuban immigrants in -- in Florida who are so much against it.

The embargoes haven't worked.

(CROSSTALK)

SANCHEZ: But it meant -- it meant so much to these candidates, Republicans and Democrats, including Bill Clinton, who would go down to South Florida.

I would watch as he would cajole some of those votes into his camp as well. Does this president, does Barack Obama have the intestinal fortitude to say to the old guard Cuban vote, I am going to do it, I don't care whether you vote for me or not; I'm going to do this because I think it's the right thing to do?

KAPLAN: Yes. And I think it's not even that big of a risk to do it now, quite honestly.

SANCHEZ: Not a big risk politically?

KAPLAN: I don't think so.

SANCHEZ: That's interesting.

You know what? As this story comes in, we talk about that. You guys hang by, if you can, because we have got more information coming in obviously from Baghdad, more comments that we're going to be sharing with you, as they come in to us from the president. And we will have that in just a little bit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Some people might say, wait, I thought you were opposed to the war. Why don't you just get them all out right away?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: President Barack Obama addresses the George Bush question for the first time overseas directly. How does he differentiate himself? Now you will hear it, as he takes a question from a student.

Also, the death toll is rising, and people are buried alive. They are searching for them. We're getting reports now of more movement there, aftershocks reported, one 5.6 in magnitude.

Now, consider this. Their lives could have been saved if someone would have listened to a scientist who warned, the earthquake was about to happen. Instead, officials there in Italy didn't listen to him. They called him an imbecile.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey, Rick. This is Heather out in Los Angeles.

I'm calling to ask, how come nobody has brought up the fact that the Republicans are doing nothing but hating on President Obama? They are now criticizing him for not going to Afghanistan, after making that surprise trip in Iraq. They -- you just can't win for losing with those people. How come you reporters don't bring that up? Just curious here in L.A. Thanks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: We welcome you back to the world headquarters of CNN. I'm Rick Sanchez.

Just as we're getting ready to bring you the news of Barack Obama in Iraq, there's news also out of Cuba that some U.S. lawmakers -- I'm going to read you just as the Associated Press is reporting it -- that some U.S. officials, some U.S. lawmakers, have now met with Fidel Castro, first time since 2006, since Fidel Castro fell ill.

Two parts to this story, obviously, and we're working both, first of all, from our bureau in Havana to find out what the condition is now of Fidel Castro since leaving the presidency and leaving command of the island to his brother, Raul.

The second part of this story, which we will follow for you, is which U.S. lawmakers have been meeting with the Cuban premier. We're making calls right now. And as we get that information for you, we will certainly bring it to you. Watch it during this hour.

Another breaking story we're following for you now, aftershocks, we hear, being felt in Italy -- 5.6 magnitude is what we understand. We have got some pictures that we can share with you now. In fact, what I want you to look at here, this is interesting.

This is one of our own correspondents, just moments ago, as she was getting ready to prepare a guest, when suddenly this aftershock is felt. You will hear her shriek in the background. That's Fionnuala Sweeney, our reporter from Italy. She's -- you are going to see her just on the left of your screen. Here we go. Hit it, Dan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where he gets confused, it was on tight. And then...

SWEENEY: Yes. That's a tremor.

Film it. Film it. Roll it. We're live. It's shaking. It's shaking. It's shaking.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SANCHEZ: Here's the big problem with that story now. We have been talking to some of our producers there in Italy, in Central Italy.

What they're telling us and some of the folks behind me here working our wires is that it's hard to tell right now whether you should go inside or go back inside a building, because you don't know when the next aftershock will be.

That's the dilemma that some of those people you see right there are now faced with. It's certainly a terrible situation. We're going to be following it for you throughout this show, as we look at the pictures and we get reaction from people there on the ground, and certainly from our producers and correspondents who have been diligently following this story now for the better part of 48 hours.

Meanwhile, men hitting women publicly, it is not something we in our society are used to. It's really not what even Pakistan wants to return to. But, today, today, on this day, it's reality.

I'm about to play for you a disturbing piece of video. So, consider yourself warned. It's hard to watch. But it shows what President Obama really is up against as America fights for the hearts and minds in the Islamic world.

Here we go. These are Islamic extremists. They're flogging a 17-year-old Pakistani girl. They do so 34 times for allegedly having an illicit relationship, for looking at a man, perhaps as little as that. These are supposedly members of the Taliban who are being allowed to practice Sharia law by Pakistani officials.

As you watch this, though, ask yourself if that is a good idea, this new policy in Pakistan to allow members of the Taliban and extremists to practice Sharia law.

Joining us again, Fawaz Gerges and Fred Kaplan.

Fawaz, let me begin with you. What does this say about the trends in Pakistan and what is going on in that country?

GERGES: I think it says there are some militants and extremists who uses and abuse Islam and Islamic law, Sharia. Those are some of the most ultramilitant and regressive elements in Pakistani society.

The good news, Rick, here is that this particular story has met with almost universal, universal opposition in the Muslim world. I assure you that some of the top clerics in the Muslim world and public opinion basically were alienated and angry and outraged by the images coming out of Pakistan. And this is the good side of this horrible story.

SANCHEZ: But, you know, what's tough about this, Fred, we have spent really hundreds of millions of dollars in Pakistan, but most of the money we gave them went for military reasons.

(CROSSTALK) SANCHEZ: As you look at this, you begin to wonder if we shouldn't have really spent some of that money on humanitarian causes to prevent something like, don't you think?

KAPLAN: Absolutely.

And that is going to be changing. That's a huge part of President Obama's policies. On this particular incident in the Swat Valley, where the Pakistani government recently made a compromise to allow Taliban and their associates to exercise Sharia law locally, that deal seems to be on the verge of falling apart anyway.

And I believe this incident, which, as you said, has been vociferously denounced by all officials in Pakistan, will accelerate that. And I think that's a good thing.

SANCHEZ: Yes, it is a good thing.

By the way, a note to our audience once again, several developing stories that we're following for you right now. We're getting information out of Italy, where there may have been yet another aftershock. We will be taking you there.

Also, we're following the very latest sound coming from Baghdad, comments by the president that we should be getting in-house any moment now.

And also word that U.S. lawmakers are meeting with Fidel Castro.

We will be back with our guests to continue our conversation in just a minute.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Rehne (ph) explained to all of us that we weren't to talk to a lesbian. And, if we were a lesbian, she specifically said, "I will take your scholarship away, and you will never play basketball again."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: Here's one Jim daddy of a story. Does a coach have a right to tell her players they're not allowed -- listen to this now -- they're not allowed to be lesbians and even discipline some of those who aren't? This is a special report that I'm going to bring you.

And then the multimillionaire accused of a Madoff-like Ponzi scheme cries on camera. You will see it. Six private planes, and he's being forced now to fly commercial. He cries. Imagine that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: Welcome back.

We have got some new information that I can share with you. We have been trying to drill down on this story about Fidel Castro, the ailing former Cuban president meeting with some U.S. lawmakers. We have just been able to get some information now that President Castro has met with at least one U.S. lawmaker, Democrat Barbara Lee, congresswoman from California, representing the 9th District there.

Our understanding in making phone calls on this is that she's leading a delegation of at least seven other lawmakers from the United States who have met with President Castro -- former President Castro, but only three of them actually had a chance to meet with Fidel Castro.

Obviously, there's all kinds of speculation as to what this means about the U.S. embargo against Cuba, what it signals about Fidel Castro's health and his power and control of the island that he apparently had relinquished just last year to his brother Raul.

So, as we develop even more information on this story, I'm going to be sharing it with you.

Also, we will follow the very latest on that 5.6-magnitude aftershock going on in Italy. And when we get new information from the president of the United States, who has been in Baghdad, when we get some of the new sound that we understand is going to be coming in, we're going to be turning that around and sharing it with you as well, so all this going on as we get into the 3:00 hour.

I should also tell you since the president landed overseas, we have made much of the fact that he is the new face of America. It almost seems to please our friends in Europe that that's the case. We saw it on display in London. In fact, we also saw it in Strasbourg, France, where well-wishers greeted Mr. Obama as he arrived for a town hall meeting there, all with smiles on their faces, tens of thousands of students packing an auditorium.

And then we saw it in Prague. Look at this. Thousands of people gathered to hear the president speak on arms control. To everyone who will hear him, Mr. Obama has pointed out that the United States now will listen, "cowboy tactics" -- quote, unquote -- gone.

Well, here's the thing about that. Not everybody makes the distinctions that we do in this country. In fact, some overseas see no difference between George W. Bush and Barack Obama, no matter how big the distinction may seem to some of us, which leads us to this yesterday. A student in Turkey, he asks a very serious question, asking Mr. Obama how he differs from George Bush.

And that prompted these answers, first on Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: So, some people might say, wait, I thought you were opposed to the war. Why don't you just get them all out right away?

Well, just because I was opposed at the outset, it doesn't mean that I don't have now responsibilities to make sure that we do things in a responsible fashion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: Fred Kaplan, let me bring you right back into this. You wrote a column in Slate.com that touched on the new vibe the president's spreading or trying to spread overseas. How did he do with that answer?

KAPLAN: I think it's a reasonable answer.

I don't -- I mean, first of all, even if he wanted to, it's logistically impossible to bring home everybody right away. Secondly, it can lead to massive insecurities if they were just pulled all at once, not only to the Iraqis, but to the U.S. forces themselves.

(CROSSTALK)

SANCHEZ: Is he selling himself, though, as a different brand altogether? In all these places where he went and all these places where he spoke, did he sell that message: I'm a different kind of American president?

KAPLAN: I think he did.

But, to your first question, even during the campaign, he never called for an immediate, instant, total withdrawal from Iraq. In fact, none of the serious Democratic candidates did.

In a larger way, I think I think what Obama represents on the global scene right now is more a restoration of what diplomacy is all about. You know, diplomacy isn't just talking with the people who are our clear friends and telling everybody else to get lost and not even to come talk with us until you're ready to be more like us.

We don't have that kind of power. We probably never did. And that's precisely the way not to solve any of these serious problems that we're facing.

(CROSSTALK)

SANCHEZ: But, yet, Fawaz, what we hear often from the right is that that's precisely how you have to talk to some of these extremists, that they don't listen to anything else, but that kind of language, that very strident tone that we heard from the Bush administration.

GERGES: You know, Rick, the extremists are a tiny minority in that part of the world.

And this is why what Barack Obama has been trying to do is to tell the Muslim world, we are trying to look at the Muslim world beyond the prism of terrorism. While the Bush administration viewed the world through the prism of terrorism and al Qaeda, Barack Obama has gone -- has been going out of his way to tell Muslims that the United States will not treat the Muslim world as synonymous with terrorism and al Qaeda.

The United States is not waging a war against Islam and will never wage a war with Islam. This is -- truly, this is a magnificent, magnificent political discourse, because it resonates with Muslims. It represents a new departure in terms of narrative, in terms of -- but, of course, I agree with Fred here.

I don't think we're seeing a new paradigm in American foreign policy. We are seeing a turn to what I call the realist compass in American foreign policy, America as a partner, rather than really America as the -- using the whip in order to impose its will in international politics.

SANCHEZ: Gentlemen, we are going to have to leave it there.

Fred and Fawaz, thanks so much for taking us through these segments.

KAPLAN: Thank you.

GERGES: Pleasure.

SANCHEZ: Farrah Fawcett, who doesn't remember her favorite posters, her "Charlie's Angels"' role, her performance in "The Burning Bed"? Now her battle with cancer, and we have an update.

The president's surprise visit to Baghdad, more video, we understand, is coming in. Comments are going to be coming in from the president. And we plan to turn those around for you as soon as we get them.

And then why, why, why was a scientist's earthquake warning in Central Italy ignored? Did I mention why?

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is Paulette (ph), (INAUDIBLE) Utah.

And I agree with the president going from country to country, like he is, and doing whatever it takes to bring peace to this world. Thank you.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: Welcome back. I'm Rick Sanchez here in the world headquarters of CNN. We've had so much breaking news during this hour, so much information coming in to us that we haven't actually planned for that we haven't had a chance to share some of your comments. Obviously we're monitoring those now.

You can join us on twitter.com/ricksanchez, also and Facebook and MySpace. And I'm going to be reading some of those and sharing some of those with our audience in just a moment.

SANCHEZ: Then there's this story, Sir Allen Stanford, he can't believe it. The TSA makes you actually remove your shoes when you go through airport security. Really? Who is Sir Allen Stanford? Well, he is a multi-multi-multimillionaire who was once a full-fledged member of the jet set.

Stanford is now having to fly commercial since the Feds seized his six, try it, six, six private jets. They've also seized his yacht and now says, Sir Allen, he expects to be indicted this month for allegedly running a multibillion dollar Ponzi scheme at the height of the Wall Street deregulation fiasco that seemed to let some tycoons run amok.

I want you to watch this now. It's important. It is somewhat surreal. Brian Ross of ABC News caught Stanford in a bit of a chatty mood on a Houston street around midnight. This is the first interview that Stanford has given since the allegations arose. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN ROSS, ABC CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: They say that you promised more than you could possibly deliver with your CDs.

SIR ALLEN STANFORD, CHAIRMAN, STANFORD FINANCIAL GROUP: Baloney.

ROSS: It was a Madoff-like scam.

STANFORD: Baloney. Baloney. I will die and go to hell if it's a Ponzi scheme. It's no Ponzi scheme. If it's a Ponzi scheme, why are they finding billions and billions of dollars all over the place?

I've worked my life. I've given everything I've had. I love my employees. I care for everybody in this company that I have. And I'm going to fight this with everything in me.

ROSS: You're going to fight it?

STANFORD: F-ing right I'm going to fight it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: At one point Stanford threatened to punch Ross for asking whether it was true that his banks had laundered drug money. He is suspected of cheating investors in a scam that totaled worth $8 billion.

He told Ross, though, the charges against him are, and we quote here directly, "bull."

These are some of the latest scenes coming out of central Italy, where officials are still hoping to rescue people who may be buried alive. But why didn't they leave when they were told before the quake hit?

Also, imagine your college athlete daughter calling home distressed that she can't be herself in front of her coach? What does a woman's sexual preference have to do with her basketball skills anyway? You will want to weigh in on this one.

And more news breaking, obviously, as the president's comments continue to come in from Baghdad. We will share that with you. And in case you haven't heard, lawmakers, U.S. lawmakers have been meeting with Fidel Castro for the first time since he took ill. What are they up to? We're drilling down. Stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: And welcome back. I'm Rick Sanchez. You see this guy right here? He is lucky to be alive today. He's lucky he wasn't shot out of the sky by an F-16. You won't believe what he is accused of. Adam Leon is his name, allegedly stole that airplane, you're looking at right there, from a flight school in Canada, Thunder Bay, flew it across several states.

The Air Force scrambled fighters. NORAD was tracking him. Seven hours later, almost out of fuel, this Leon fellow lands the plane on a road in Missouri, walked to a store, and waited for officers.

What the hell was he doing? And what in the world was he thinking? Immigration officials have him now, and probably asking him some of those very questions. Important questions.

And by the way, I want to check in on what you are saying right now. Let's go to the Twitter board if we can, Robert, and you'll see. This is on the Stanford story we reported to you moments ago.

"Rick, I feel Stanford's pain." He's the gentleman that has lost the use of his six jets and now has to fly commercial, first class, no doubt. "I've had to switch from cognac to bourbon and it makes me want to cry."

On al Qaeda and President Obama's efforts: "The first goal to defeat al Qaeda is to stop recruitment. You do that by changing the tone. The GOP just doesn't get that."

And one more on Stanford. "Stanford says he lives modestly. Wow! He and I have different definitions, then. I'd like to see his dictionary."

Players disciplined, not just for being lesbian, but for even just for agreeing with lesbians, or for perhaps looking like one. Whatever that means. Can a coach tell her team they're not allowed to be gay? We will ask in a special report.

And then Farrah Fawcett, say it ain't so. She's fighting cancer, and we've got an update on her condition.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: They all matter, but this is a story that really tends to make you mad. When scientists warn about global warming, they are called alarmists. When Galileo tried to convince us that the sun is the center of our universe, he was ridiculed. And so it is with Italian volcanologist Giampaolo Giuliani. When he warned more than a week ago that an earthquake was about to hit, he was called an imbecile. Result? Well, here it is. These are the pictures. More than 200 people are now dead in L'Aquila where they are still trying to pull people out of the rubble who may be alive. Here is what our Paula Newton was seeing as she filed this report for us just a couple of hours ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hampering a lot of these rescue areas are the very strong aftershocks. We've had more throughout the day today. Some very strong ones throughout the day yesterday. Every time you get one of those aftershocks, debris continues to fly off some of these buildings.

And, of course, families wondering how long can their loved ones hang on. That's why we've seen the death toll steadily climb here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: Now this scientist I've just told you about, Giampaolo Giuliani, for his part, is telling authorities they owe apologies to all the victims, all the dead, and their families. And as we look at these pictures, I want to bring in our meteorologist Chad Myers. He's a scientist in his own right.

Chad, Giuliani based his warning on the emission of radon gas that he started measuring coming from the ground. Does radon foretell earthquakes?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It can. It's one of the new ways they're trying to figure out whether any earthquake can be predicted. But about a month ago, he came up with this theory. He said, look at this ground water. Look, look at the CO2. Look at the CO2 transporting this radon into the water.

This water has an increase in radon levels, that means the radon is coming from somewhere. It is centered over this region right near the town where the earthquake happened. How is it getting there? This is my prediction. This is what we're studying at my institute.

And they told him, yes, well, you know what, hold on, just wait a minute. You don't have enough evidence to warn people. He put speakers on his car. He drove around the city. He said, get out. This was about two weeks ago. They finally said, you get out, you stop doing this because now you're panicking people. And lo and behold, there's an earthquake.

SANCHEZ: Wow, lesson to be learned.

MYERS: Can be.

SANCHEZ: Scientists should be listened to, including you, Chad Myers. My thanks to you.

MYERS: Sure. SANCHEZ: The vice president of the United States talks exclusively with Wolf Blitzer about President Obama's trip to Iraq and the need to draw down U.S. troops. You're going to hear more on that in just a bit.

Also I have something in common with Mariah Carey and Selena Gomez. Selena Gomez? I'll tell you what it is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: Welcome back. I'm Rick Sanchez. The best thing there is about college -- come in tight, I don't want my son to hear this. You ready? The best thing about college is that any excuse to party is good enough. But for students at UNC Chapel Hill, this excuse is awesome.

This is time-lapse photography you're about to see. Get ready, go. The Tar Heels just beat Michigan State for the national championship. And watch what happens right after the game ends. First there's a group of students. Then a bigger group, then bigger and bigger and finally elbow room is a thing of the past.

They're like ants. Ah, the college life. Our thanks to The Daily Tar Heel for the images. Now, go back and study for those finals, kids.

Now, a turn from men's basketball to women's basketball. This one nobody is celebrating, though, not this story. Here's why. This is about a coach who is taking it upon herself to tell her players what they can and cannot be.

CNN's Kara Finnstrom now on what people around the country are calling a blatant case of discrimination.

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KARA FINNSTROM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Women's college basketball, a joy for some, for others, it has brought terrible heartache.

CINDY DAVIES, FORMER PSU ATHLETE: When I was cornered, I had no choice but to say that I was leaving the team.

FINNSTROM: The new documentary "Training Rules" claims the shadow of homophobia hangs over the women's college game. The film explores Penn State's women's program during its 27 years under Coach Rene Portland. She turned the school into a national powerhouse and allegedly made no secret of her team policy: no drinking, no drugs, no lesbians.

In a 1986 interview with The Chicago Sun-Times, Portland said of homosexuality: "I will not have it in my program." The film includes interviews with seven former Penn State players and assistant coaches who claim discrimination.

LISA FALOON, FORMER PSU ATHLETE: Rene explained to all of us that we weren't to talk to a lesbian, and if we were a lesbian, she specifically said, I will take your scholarship away, and you will never play basketball again.

FINNSTROM: Jennifer Harris, another former player in the documentary, challenged Portland in 2005. Harris, who says she is straight, sued the university and Coach Portland, alleging she was a victim of harassment and discrimination, dismissed from the team because Portland thought she was gay.

Penn State settled the lawsuit. Its internal investigation found Portland created a hostile, intimidating, and offensive environment for Harris. The university's president mandated anti-discrimination changes, and in 2007, Portland resigned.

But the controversy goes on, and there are lawsuits pending against other universities.

DEE MOSBACHER, CO-DIRECTOR, "TRAINING RULES": We thought this case would be a really good example and a lens through which to view the whole issue of homophobia in women's sports.

FINNSTROM: Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of outsports.com, which reports on gay and lesbian athletes, agrees.

CYD ZEIGLER, FOUNDER, OUTSPORTS.COM: We've heard a lot of bad stories about women coming out of the closet and getting kicked off of teams, coaches being fired for being lesbian.

FINNSTROM: Penn State declined our request to discuss the film or the settlement of the suit, but did say right now: "We are very happy with the state of the women's basketball program."

Liz McGovern, who was on Portland's coaching staff, said she decided to come forward in the documentary, to help future lesbian athletes.

LIZ MCGOVERN, FORMER ASSISTANT COACH: I used to call my parents and cry. This is not why I got into coaching, because I saw the harm it was doing. You lived a lie, and it's really hard to do that.

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FINNSTROM: Now we did try to reach Coach Rene Portland for comment but were unsuccessful. Numerous other media outlets have tried to reach her since the lawsuit was settled, they have also been unsuccessful. But we can tell you, Rick, that at the time she did make a brief statement saying that she believed the university's investigation was flawed.

SANCHEZ: Kara Finnstrom reporting from Los Angeles, we thank you for that.

The vice president sat down with Wolf Blitzer and discussed the president's surprise visit to Baghdad. In addition to supporting the troops, he discussed diplomacy in the region. And if you were born before, say, oh, 1980, you know this pin-up girl turned TV angel. Now she's struggling to face a horrible disease. We'll be right back.

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SANCHEZ: We welcome you back. I'm Rick Sanchez. Just two words. Farrah Fawcett. Those two words are probably enough to trigger hot flashes in most American boys of the 1970s and the 1980s. Yes, I had the poster in my room. Farrah Fawcett isn't doing too well those days, though. She is sick with cancer we're sad to report.

But reports of her condition are different depending on who you talk to today. We've been checking. Her doctor tells reporters that she's in a hospital in Los Angeles and her producer said that she's doing just fine. But the blogs and the pages all over the Internet say that she is on death's door.

Watch this piece of tape. It's from a documentary about Farrah Fawcett. She's a little bit philosophical here.

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FARRAH FAWCETT, ACTOR: I'm holding onto the hope that there is some reason that I got cancer, and there is something that may not be very clear to me right now but that I will do.

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SANCHEZ: Everyone's favorite "Charlie's Angel." That documentary about Farrah Fawcett will be on TV soon. She was diagnosed with cancer three years ago and we're pulling for her.

He used to be Delaware's own Joe Biden, a favorite son, and a bit of a rabble rouser on the TV circuit. Joe Biden has never been afraid to say what he thinks. Now though the burden is a bit bigger as he is the vice president of the United States, Joe Biden.

With all the president and -- with all the emphasis on President Obama these days, our own team of Wolf Blitzer and Gloria Borger sat down with the V.P. Wolf Blitzer joins us now to share what he has learned.

Wolf, what have you got?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It was a wide-ranging interview, Rick. And as you point out, the vice president, he never minces any words. He speaks very bluntly about the former vice president, Dick Cheney. No love lost there, clearly. Speaks very bluntly about what's happening in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere.

And we also talked about jobs. Will there be any new jobs created in this country this year? Listen to this exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: So far as you know, the first three months, 2 million jobs, 5 million-plus jobs lost over the past, since January of last year. So what you are saying is that throughout 2009, every single month it might not be 600,000 jobs lost but there's going to be a loss of jobs every month.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There will continue to be job losses the remainder of this year. The question is will they continually go down before they begin to rebound and employment -- we go down to zero job loss and back to employment.

Look, every major economist, when the last major recession in '82, job gain lagged 18 months to two years behind unemployment, the so-called GDP, when we officially say we're growing and we're no longer in a recession.

The measure for this administration will be whether or not at the end of our term middle class people's standard of living have risen and not fallen, not merely with a GDP rise.

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BLITZER: Bottom line, Rick, if you thought there would be some new jobs created this year, 2009, at least the vice president says, think again.

SANCHEZ: Hope it doesn't go into double-digits as some have predicted earlier. Thanks so much, Wolf Blitzer, we'll be looking forward to your show, "THE SITUATION ROOM."

Oh, my goodness, guess what just happened? Go ahead and show them, Robert (ph), if you can. We got the whale. Take a look. Yes. By golly. Twitter is over-capacity again. That's what that means. Hopefully it will come back in just a moment.

By the way, this. My daughter is going to love this next story. Yours truly wound up on the list of the hottest ticket in preteen television. Talking about Selena Gomez. Do you know her? If you don't, I guarantee your kids do. We'll be right back to tell you about that one.

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SANCHEZ: For reasons that I am about to discuss, I'm now a huge hit at home with my 8-year-old daughter. There is my pride and joy. Daddy's girl. That's Savannah (ph), seen here yesterday stopping for a picture during a hike that she and I and my wife and my other son took down in the Georgia mountains. Weekend hike.

Just realized -- she just realized that her old man, yes, that's the guy on the right there, is really pretty cool. Huh? Why? Because of this. The Web site latina.com came out yesterday. It has selected the top Latinos to follow on Twitter.

And on that list there is Mariah Carey, coming in number one, Selena Gomez as number two, who, by the way, my daughter thinks that Selena Gomez walks on water. Thereby, my sudden coolness.

And there's the old man coming in at number three. Something about Twitter also being for serious thinkers, the article said. Insert your own comment now.

My thanks to all of you for being with us. Sorry we didn't get more of your comments in today's newscast. But we promise we'll do it again tomorrow and we'll be looking for you then. I'm Rick Sanchez. Time now to turn things over to Washington. Here now, Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."